Violence is a significant element of the plots of both Joyce Carol Oates’s “I. D. ” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find. ” The way that the authors weave the violent event into the plot, however, differs significantly. This essay considers similarities and differences in the treatment of violence as a plot element in these two short stories. The violence in Oates’s “I. D. ” affects both Lisette and her mother, Yvette. The reader learns that Lisette’s father Duane Mulvey caused Lisette to fall down the stairs and injure her eye, and he had beaten Yvette.
O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” centers around the murders of a grandmother and her family by an escaped inmate, The Misfit, and his cohorts. In both stories, the violence is a central part of the narrative. Similarly, both authors hint at events in order to weave the violence into the story more cohesively. In “I. D. ,” Oates first hints at the violence by remarking that Lisette has had the cartilage and bone of her nose rebuilt. At this point in the story, however, the author does not provide any information about how Lisette received these injuries.
The reader learns the source of these injuries later: as Lisette reflects upon her one experience in court, she remarks that her father had not meant to hurt her when she fell down the stairs. Even later in the story, the reader learns that Duane had beaten Yvette in a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’Connor foreshadows future events in the first paragraph when she mentions a newspaper article about the recently escaped Misfit.
She later foreshadows the car accident when she describes the grandmother’s attire, remarking that in the event of an accident, people will still think of the grandmother as a lady. The similarities between the depiction of violence in these two stories ends here as these two stories are quite dissimilar. The first major difference concerns the perspective from which the reader gains knowledge of the violence. In Oates’s “I. D. ,” none of the violence is directly related to the reader. We learn of violent events in the past, and we learn of the possible murder of Yvette.
However, the author does not explicitly describe any violent events that occur in the present tense of the story. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the reader does experience the horror of the murders from the grandmother’s perspective. We read about the sound of pistol shots as the grandmother’s family is murdered in the woods; we read the dialogue between the grandmother and the Misfit as she attempts to save herself; and we read of the grandmother’s murder. All of these events occur directly in the story: they are not events that are remembered.
The second major difference concerns the effects of the violence on the characters. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the effects end with the story itself. As all of the members of the family are dead, they will not have to live with the effects of violence. In “I. D. ” the main character seems to have lived her entire life in a violent, abusive environment. Because the protagonist is still living at the end of the story, the reader is left to wonder what will happen to her. Was the body in the morgue actually Yvette?
If so, who will care for Lisette? If not, has Lisette’s psyche already been so heavily damaged by her relationship with her father that she is destined to fall into abusive relationship herself? Oates seems to hint at this on numerous occasions when she details how Lisette interacts with the older boys, allowing them to get her drunk and stroke her back, and J. C. Even with the very best outcome, Lisette will still have to learn to live with her mother’s neglect, leaving a young teenager at home alone for days on end.
A third major difference concerns the reader’s response to this violence. This aspect is significantly affected by the author’s writing style. In “I. D. ,” Oates creates a narrative in which it is very easy for the reader to relate to and sympathize with the protagonist. She accomplishes this by providing simple, mundane details about Lisette’s life. As with many teenagers, she has issues with boys and acceptance from her peers. These difficulties are compounded by the horrors of her daily life and recent injuries.
Oates draws the reader into the story by providing these details from Lisette’s perspective, allowing her stream-of-consciousness thoughts to give the reader background information that fills in her character sketch. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the reader is quite distanced from the characters and the events. O’Connor provides little background information for the characters. In fact, the grandmother does not even have a name. The author’s writing style, with numerous short sentences, does not appear to allow for the same emotional response on the part of the reader.
Even the news of the grandmother’s murder comes in the middle of a paragraph. It would appear that this event would impact the reader more directly if it came at the beginning or the end of a paragraph. Both of these stories prominently feature violence, and both authors weave the violence into the entire narrative by describing events from the past and foreshadowing future events. Differences between the two stories include direct vs. indirect portrayal of violence, the effects of violence on the characters, and the reader’s ability to sympathize with the characters.
Courtney from Study Moose
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